What are Serious Dress Chronographs? How do we Evaluate Them?
I'd assume by now you already know what a chronograph is (if not, go here). And a dress chronograph is one that's conceived not with the real-life, heavy application of the chronograph function in mind (but then, who really uses a mechanical stop-watch these days with any level of diligence?), but rather, out of a yearning for the symbolic association with the more noble of activities that demand timekeeping, such as the timing of one's horse in a horse race (to all horse owners out there: you're doing life right), or to time a leisurely autumn drive in one's Porsche Boxster in Tuscany (because, of course you have to do that). In short, a dress chronograph needs to be elegant, graceful and sophisticated in order to be fit for purpose, or rather, non-purpose. You get what I mean.
And a serious dress chronograph is a carefully crafted dress chronograph, with features such as finely sculptured precious metal cases and hand-finished, manual-winding (to keep the profile of the watch thin) movements. To give you a prime example of a serious dress chronograph, we can look back to our recent coverage of the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph. Some of the other textbook examples of a modern, serious dress chronograph include the Patek Ref. 5070/5170, Vacheron Constantin Corns de Vaches 1955, Chopard L.U.C 1963 Chronograph etc. The selection becomes slightly wider if we go vintage. You have your usual suspects in the Patek Ref.130/1463, the Vacheron Ref.4072/4178, Longines chronographs with 13ZN/30CH movements and literally any vintage Audemars Piguet chronographs (kudos if you manage to track down one of these rare breeds). Yet, all in all you don't get to see them that often since, quite frankly, they are not easy to make. And yes, by virtue of the rule of supply and demand, they tend to be rather expensive. A Patek Ref.5070 from the 1990s will cost you at least HKD500,000 for its most common rendition, while a vintage Vacheron Ref.4178 is fetching anywhere from HKD200,000 to HKD600,000 plus, depending on the variation. And somehow, the Vacheron Ref.47101/47111, being an absolutely serious dress chronograph also from the 1990s, that shares the same base movement as the Patek Ref.5070 and is a direct descendant of the Vacheron Ref. 4178 aesthetically speaking, doesn't quite get the attention it deserves and sees its price consistently lingering around the HKD100,000 mark. And here's exactly why we feel this is such an underrated piece.
About the Vacheron Ref.47101/47111
The lovely thing about the external appearance of the Ref.47101/47111 lies with its execution, the way it meshed together vintage aesthetics and modern construction integrity. The stepped case and teardrop lugs are tastefully polished, and they are accountable for much of the visual intrigue of the watch, whether you view it from above or from the side. Everything from the bezel, lugs, crown and chronograph pushers are aptly proportioned and together they make for one coherent casing. Other features such as applied batons/numerals, blued steel hands for the subdials also elevated the whole watch.
Flipping the watch over and you are greeted with a display caseback, revealing what could be the most interesting aspect of the watch and something that makes the comparison between the Ref.47101/47111 and the Patek Ref.5070 relevant: the movement.
There's something inexplicably enjoyable about a well finished Lemania 2310. It could the be classic layout, or the fact that a stock movement actually serves as the perfect backdrop on which different watchmakers' finishing styles could be compared and contrasted, or really, simply the reality that so many top players of the industry trusted it with the task of powering their most prized chronographs. To look at a quality, Lemania-based movement is really to look at a piece of mechanical watchmaking history.
So, What Happened to Ref.47101/47111's Valuation?
Let's just put this into perspective: we are talking about an all-time classic dress chronograph, as serious as any dress chronograph can get, from Vacheron Constantin, a "Holy Trinity" brand, with the visual cues from Ref.4178, one of the best chronographs the industry has ever produced and a stunningly finished chronograph movement based on Lemania 2310, one of the best chronograph movements, which also powered the most venerable chronographs from Vacheron's frienemy Patek Philippe, such as the Ref.5070, or even the Ref.3970/5970 etc. And somebody could actually, potentially grab one in auctions for less than HKD100,000? While the "standard" Patek Ref.5070 goes for more than HKD500,000 at a minimum? That's just insane.
One explanation for this painstaking anomaly, is the fact that, the Vacheron Ref.47101/47111 is relatively speaking not super rare. It is believed that there's been a total of around 1,500 pieces manufactured across case/dial combinations, which makes it not too hard to track down compared to other comparable options. The other tangential factor that came into play, might be the fact that the Ref.47101/47111 was conceived in late 1980s and early 1990s, pretty much a dark age for mechanical watchmaking where things got a little weird with companies making questionable decisions in their product design and a lot of watches from that era looked rather awkward and uninteresting, stuck in a limbo somewhere between the old and the new, which to this day, still categorically harms the valuation of 1990s watches. But awkward and uninteresting the Ref.47101/47111 is not. It's pretty darn perfect. As a result, I am 100% certain it's only a matter of time before the valuation of Ref.47101/47111 edges up and until then, you know what to get if you want a taste of the good old serious dress chronograph.